With the offseason in full swing for the Philadelphia Eagles, we are previewing what lies ahead at each position group in the coming months. In this Offseason Preview, we take a look at the tackle position.
End Of Season Depth Chart: The Eagles finished the season without Jason Peters and Todd Herremans, the starting tackle tandem from an impressive offensive line campaign in 2011. Herremans was lost for the season after suffering a foot injury in the Week 9 while Peters never returned from the two-folded torn Achilles he suffered during the offseason.
Demetress Bell was originally signed in the offseason to hold down Peters' spot until the All Pro could return, but he was beaten out in Training Camp for the left tackle spot by King Dunlap. The 6-foot-9 Dunlap ended up starting 12 games for the Eagles in 2012, 11 of those at left tackle. Bell started five games split between the left and right side, though he recorded the third lowest score of any offensive tackle on the season according to ProFootballFocus. Dunlap, on the flip side, finished 34th among 80 qualifying offensive tackles.
Upon Herremans' injury, rookie fifth-round pick Dennis Kelly took over the right tackle job. Another mammoth at the position, Kelly, 6-8, started 10 games on the season, split between right tackle (seven) and right guard (three). It was an altogether encouraging season for the rookie, who wasn't even invited to the NFL Scouting Combine during the pre-draft process. At worst, with the second-year bump on the horizon, he's established himself as a worthy backup moving forward.
There were also several other developmental tackle prospects on the Eagles roster by season's end. The team thought highly enough of Nate Menkin that they claimed the rookie offensive lineman off waivers after his release during the final roster cutdown by the Houston Texans. Menkin was placed on injured reserve with a throat injury with four weeks left in the regular season, though he never appeared in a game for the team. He will be a player to watch come next summer's Training Camp.
The Eagles also added Matt Kopa to the active roster near the end of the season. Kopa, 6-6, 310, had spent the season on the New England Patriots practice squad. His practice squad eligibility has now been exhausted, so next year's roster crunch will be make-or-break for him. Finally, Matt Reynolds, the younger brother of center Dallas Reynolds, spent the season on the team's practice squad. He, too, bears watching in the offseason.
Player To Watch In Offseason: The dominance of the Eagles offensive line in 2011 began with the play of All-Pro left tackle Jason Peters. Without Peters in 2012, the ceiling for the offensive line was simply lowered. The team and Peters are both optimistic that the left tackle will be able to return to full health in time for the first round of offseason activities this spring, which should bode well for his near future. For an offensive line that went from 22nd in the league in sacks allowed all the way up to fifth, the impact of Peters' absence was obvious, which doesn't even bring into account the running game, where Peters was so dominant in tandem with Evan Mathis in 2011. If the Eagles are able to regain Peters at or near his 2011 level of play, the entire outlook of the offensive line, and the offense as a whole, will take a big step forward once again.
Free Agents To Be: Only Dunlap is scheduled for free agency. He was a free agent last offseason as well before re-signing with the Eagles.
Best Performance: This is a difficult one to peg down, but all things considered we'll tab Dennis Kelly's first start at right tackle as the call here. After starting three games at right guard, Kelly slid to tackle, his natural position, in Week 11 for Nick Foles' first start. Though the Eagles lost the game, Kelly allowed only one quarterback hurry while often charged with the difficult task of blocking Redskins pass rusher Ryan Kerrigan.
Noteworthy Stat: The Eagles ran the ball off the right end, to the right of the right tackle, 98 times in 2012, the second highest such total in the league. Those plays gained an average of 5.68 yards, which was the 14th highest total in the league.
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